Program for troubled youngsters finds a home at Chesapeake High

March 27, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Choice has come to Baltimore County.

The program of support and supervision for troubled youngsters has been operating since January, but yesterday it took up official residence at Chesapeake High School in the eastern part of the county.

Choice, which originated several years ago in Baltimore, pairs young people, many of whom have had scrapes with juvenile justice system, with young caseworkers who try to make sure they go to school and otherwise behave themselves.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, County Executive Roger Hayden, Secretary of Education Nancy Grasmick and other dignitaries were scheduled to dedicate the Baltimore County program today.

Choice is operated by the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and, in this expansion, will have the cooperation of the Department of Juvenile Services and Baltimore County.

"The hallmark of what we do is intensive supervision," said Dr. John Martello, the program's executive director. "Our caseworkers have contact three to five times a day, seven days a week [with the youths] for as long as they are in the program."

The caseworker sees that a youngster goes to school, checks with him after school, monitors homework and family relationships and visits at the child's home at least once each evening, said Craig Dempsey, the program's acting director.

"As we get to know the children, we are advocates for the kids" -- linking them with community services they need, said Dr. Martello. "And we do this very aggres- sively."

The staff members, who are usually recent college graduates, are combination social workers and big brothers who try to extend a helping hand without fostering dependence. Caseworkers usually stay with Choice a maximum of 14 months and are paid $17,500 annually.

The youths they serve, ages 9 to 17, have been referred by the Juvenile Services Agency and other state agencies. "We serve youth who are delinquent . . . children in need of supervision who are truant or ungovernable . . . those at risk for out-of-home placement," said Dr. Martello.

Youngsters stay in the program from three to six months.

One of the big problems is overwhelming youngsters' natural resistance, said Mr. Dempsey. But when the caseworker shows up at a child's home every day at 7 a.m., "it shows that person must care. That beats down most of the resistance."

The program started in the county in January and already has 25 youngsters enrolled. The capacity is 30. Most of the county youngsters have been referred by juvenile authorities, though there are some slots reserved for Chesapeake High School students because the program is located there, Mr. Dempsey said.

Mr. Dempsey has been successful in reducing the recidivism rate of young offenders and helping them achieve their individual goals.

Choice works with more than 500 young people annually in Baltimore and Prince Georges County -- and now in Baltimore County.

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